- I'm going to put up a post inviting everyone to pair up or group up with each other. That's my only part in this process. I'll post it every few weeks or month depending on how popular it is, but it's up to all of you to decide how to group up, transfer files, convey feedback, when feedback is due, what to do if someone's not carrying their own weight, and such. Exchange feedback on each other's work once a week, once a month, once a year–it's all up to you. I'm putting the post here so the interested have a "meeting place."
- Please understand that there are websites that specialize in this service. One of my patrons is a big fan of Scribophile. (Good for alpha reading.) They will have systems where you have to give feedback, which means once you do you will GET feedback. There are lots of structured feedback systems. Betabooks.co is a good place if you're done and need complete beta reading. If you're doing this here, it's because you want to do it with the people here.
- Matching up by prefered genre is a really good idea. At least enjoy each other's prefered genre. So if you reach out to exchange work with someone, you both should tell each other what kind of writers you are. Though some of your best feedback may come from someone you don't expect, so don't be afraid to mix it up with someone who is willing.
- You're really going to want to find someone (or multiple someones) who is (are) writing at your level. One of the tricks of peer review is that it won't be as useful to either of you if you're not reviewing your peers. A situation where one of you is writing at a higher level will be more of a mentorship for one, unrewarding for the other, and likely frustrating for both. I know some people will immediately discount the quality of their prose and others will think they are way too good for everyone, but it's important to try to write with a partner or group that can keep up with your feedback and will give you useful feedback.
- This might be news to those of you new to the feedback game, but it is actually GIVING feedback that will help develop your writing the most. We absorb the more holistic lessons we teach much more organically and tend to be thinking about how to fix that_one_thing when we are getting feedback. Over time, good writers learn that a peer asking them for a beta read is an extraordinary opportunity. But, if that doesn't sell you on giving feedback, it's a real first rate asshole move to take feedback and not give it. So don't do that.
- Getting feedback is a humbling process. Learning to pour our soul into work and then, when it's time, completely extricate our ego from the process of being told something we loved didn't work at all and there are major things to be worked on. We all want to be geniuses. And we all want our artistic vision to be executed flawlessly. And the first few times you hear that didn't happen it is devastating. But it gets easier. And the whole process is very important. Certainly no critic or reviewer will be any less pointed once you're published so it's time to forage your criticism armor.
- In the near future, I'm going to start work on a series of articles about feedback (and this will turn into a link at that time) but for now just remember that all feedback comes through the filter of who is giving it, and it can be just as important to your writing to learn how to ignore certain feedback as it absolutely is to learn to take some. By the time I left my writing program, I knew six or seven people I would have appreciated if they burned my manuscript and peed on it to put out the flames, and a couple dozen that I knew to smile and nod...if they had done the reading at all. Of course, this discretion absolutely canNOT be based on who praises you. Chances are the feedback that stings the most is the stuff you sort of knew needed work already and your brain is finally hearing it. Those who don't seem to have engaged or understood the intention of your work may have valuable insight (especially all their input as an aggregate) but it isn't likely to cut you quite so deeply.
- You're really not going to be able to give full bodied feedback if you don't know the basic elements of craft. So learn what is meant by character, setting, theme, tone, plot, structure, and point of view, and it will be invaluable to learn devices like imagery, foreshadowing, metaphor, personification and such. I am trickling in articles about these things (as is Arielle K Harris, except she's doing it much faster) but they will be a while before they're up and ready to read.
- You can, in addition to everything else that is totally up to you, use any method or style of feedback you wish, but I have some suggestions below.
Suggestions for Feedback Template
- Write a paragraph about what happens. No value judgements. No interpretation. No filter or lens. Just WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS in a brief synopsis. Writers will be shocked how often your readers aren't following something that they think is clear. When everyone thinks they haven't left the bar yet, you know you have to make it more clear that they're upstairs in the hotel room. And this simple trick helps immeasurably with giving good feedback and reading as a writer.
- Eliminate "like" from your vocabulary until the end of your review. Whether you liked it or didn't like it should be immaterial. You want to focus on what you think the author was trying to accomplish, and how well you think it worked. Not everyone wants to be easily read. Not everyone wants to be literary. Not everyone wants to have their setting act as a kinesthetic landscape for their themes. So try to figure out what they were going for and if it was the literary equivalent of a car chase with lots of explosions, tell them how well they pulled that off.
- Write some* things you think worked. Be as specific as you possibly can, maybe even getting into the choice of words. Finding what DOES work is as important for you as a reader and your future as a writer as it is
- Write some* things you think didn't work. DO NOT OFFER A FIX. Be as specific as you possibly can, maybe even getting into their choice of words. Limit your valuation and interpretation language. Just focus on how and why it didn't work.
- Having identified what you think the author's intention is, offer them ONE suggestion for how they might better achieve it. Not only will keeping your "helpful suggestions" to one keep them from feeling like it's a laundry list of how much they suck, but it forces you to triage what you think the most important problem to fix is, and that is a very good skill to have. (This can, but doesn't have to be, the same as #4.)
- End your feedback with praise. One thing you liked. One thing they nailed. Something awesome. (You may now use the word "liked.") Feedback is critical to writers, but praise is so wonderful and important too.
- At no time is feedback ever to display how cleverly you can trash someone or their work. It was really en-vogue for a while there in the early eighties for workshops to just involve savaging each other in displays of how witty one could be. But they found out it was really quite terrible for the writers and the work and that dashing people's pretentiousness is better done as a slow burn.
- You'll notice that spelling, punctuation, and grammar aren't even on this feedback template. That is because active reading and valuable feedback is so much more than copy editing, and your work is likely to change (possibly completely) before its final form. Please let your beta readers know if you are interested in Spelling Punctuation or Grammar (SpAG) corrections.
*The number of things will depend on the length you're critiquing for each other. I recommend no more than 10 page (double spaced) to start and you can go up from there if you want. If you're reviewing that much material, a good number is three.